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Rewarding tribal folk for forest conservation

Tingguian elder Magno Dumas has committed himself to guard and protect every species of trees, plants, wild game and fresh water fish in Tubo, a remote upland town in Abra.

“Without the forests, we’d starve,” he says. The forests feed the springs and rivers that irrigate fields, give potable water and help supply the villagers’ protein needs in the form of fresh water fish and wild game like wild pigs and deer.

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“And without the forests, we’d be deprived of comfortable shelter,” says Dumas, one of Tubo’s volunteer forest guards.

In Tubo (population: 9,000), village members can harvest trees from the forests for their housing needs only but are barred from cutting trees for sale.

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They can sell other forest products such as rattan. But even gathering rattan is regulated by a traditional practice called “lapat.”

Lapat is a Tingguian forest management practice of imposing an off-season for harvesting vital resources to allow them to regenerate. For example, under lapat rules, pregnant and very young wild pig and deer must be spared.

Ifugao’s ‘muyong’

In Ifugao, Nestor Peralta, a farmer of the Ifugao Peasant Movement, a people’s organization, takes pride in his province’s “muyong.”

The muyong is a forest or woodlot that a clan or group of clans manages. Under the muyong practice, only members of the clan can harvest trees from the woodlot. Like Abra’s lapat, clan members can only harvest what they need for housing, tools and firewood.

“Thanks to our muyong, the brooks and springs [which are sustained by the clan-managed forests] benefit the whole community,” says Peralta.

The vital water systems that irrigate Ifugao’s famed rice terraces come from watersheds and headwaters, which traditionally have been maintained through the muyong approach.

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Ifugao Representative Teodoro Baguilat Jr. has sponsored a measure that seeks to require the government to reward indigenous communities for maintaining through their traditional forest management practices the watersheds and headwaters that benefit them.

But the government is also considering REDD-Plus (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries). Dumas and Peralta were among over a hundred participants in a recent REDD-Plus forum to address climate change.

Incentive mechanism

REDD-Plus is a proposed incentive mechanism for reducing greenhouse emissions. The concept requires industrialized countries to provide financial incentives for developing countries to manage and protect forests and for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

REDD-Plus is among the mechanisms from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC, which evolved from the international community’s debates and negotiations on how forest management and conservation could address climate change.

The forum was organized by Code REDD-Philippines, a loose coalition of nongovernment organizations interested in seeing “a responsible REDD-Plus mechanism.” It was hosted by the Baguio-based Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Other participating organizations have rejected REDD-Plus as an antidote to climate change.

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), for example, has rejected what it calls the “market-based approach” of REDD-Plus. “Instead of concretely reducing carbon emissions, the market approach maintains a ‘business as usual’ situation for corporations and Annex A (developed) countries, that are the main culprits in global warming,” said the CPA and CDPC in a joint statement.

Marlea Munez, who represents Code REDD-Philippines, says REDD-Plus is not only about carbon financing but also about governance. As long as the mechanism guarantees the “full and effective participation” of indigenous communities, REDD-Plus can help them assert incentives for having conserved and for continuing to conserve their forests according to their traditional management practices, she says.

“In fact, REDD-Plus can be one of our tools against extractive industries such as big mining,” she says.

Cordillera government agencies support REDD-Plus provided it adheres to Republic Act No. 8371 (the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997), says Sancho Buking of the Cordillera office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

“It’s about time [indigenous Filipinos] are rewarded or given incentives for conserving the forests,” says Augusto Lagon, Cordillera regional technical director for the forest management bureau of the DENR.

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TAGS: Abra, environment, forest conservation, Forestry, Indigenous Peoples, Rewards, Tubo
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